Equal Pay and Work-Life Balance: Negotiations and actions in Danish female and male dominated companies

Trine P. Larsen* and Steen E. Navrbjerg*
*Associate Professors, FAOS University of Copenhagen
Paper presented at SASE conference, London Juli, 2015

Key words: Gender policies, Danish shop stewards, company based bargaining

Equal pay and work-life balance are high on the agenda across Europe. Denmark is no exception; the Danish government and social partners have initiated various actions to eliminate the gender pay gap and to ease employees’ work-life balance. However, a key question is whether these initiatives have been transposed into practice at company level. This is particularly crucial in an industrial relations system like the Danish, where wage and working conditions are regulated primarily through collective bargaining and it is increasingly up to social partners at company level to implement, discuss and negotiate the details of the sectoral agreements.

Based on a survey with 3.275 shop stewards, this article explores whether equal pay and work-life balance issues are discussed and negotiated at female and male dominated workplaces in the private sector. This analysis adds new insights as few studies have explicitly examined the joint actions of social partners developed within the local bargaining system to promote equal pay and work-life balance policies in private companies (Rigby and O’Brien-Smith 2010: 204; Ponzellini et al, 2010:5). In fact, most studies on such issues concentrate on the public sector and primarily tend to explore the availability of such policies rather than the role of shop stewards in developing these company based responses (Gregory and Milner 2009).

This paper argues that equal pay between men and women and work-life balance issues are discussed and negotiated at both female and male-dominated workplaces. However, interesting variations exist. Whilst work-life balance issues are often at the top of the social partners’ agenda, equal pay typically figures much lower. It is particularly at workplaces with an equal number of men and women where these issues are up for local bargaining– and interestingly it is typically the male shop steward who takes the initiative. In female dominated workplaces, where these issues also tend to subject to local bargaining slightly more male than female shop stewards take the lead. This is less so the case in male dominated companies, where equal pay and work-life balance figure slightly lower on the bargaining agenda. These results are particularly interesting as within much of the literature work-life balance and equal pay issues are often associated with women, and itis therefore expected that these topics would be more prevalent in female-dominated workplaces and that female shop stewards would initiate negotiations and sign agreements on these issues.

The paper is structured as follow: First, the main features of the Danish bargaining model and the recent equal pay and work-life balance initiatives produced by social partners at national and sectoral levels are described. An analytical framework based on a brief discussion of contemporary literature is then developed. Then how and to what extent equal pay and work-life balance measures are discussed and negotiated in private companies is explored.